Food is a major morale booster, especially in survival situations. However, walking to the local corner store to buy some Twinkies and a Big Gulp isn’t always an option. If you’re in a remote area, you’ll need to find your comfort foods in nature. Fortunately, Native Americans and Canada’s First Nations loved tasty snacks just as much as we do, and came up with some pretty ingenious ways to make them. In the following video from Far North Bushcraft and Survival, Lonnie shows how to make sxusem or “Indian ice cream” from the Soapberry plant.

Photo via Lazarus000 / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Shepherdia canadensis, also known as Canada buffaloberry or soapberry, is a plant that’s native to the northwest half of the United States, from the southwest through the Great Lakes region. It’s also widely available in Canada and Alaska, where Lonnie resides. The plant got its nickname from the fact that its berries are high in saponins, which produce foam and act as natural soap. You may recall from our previous article that yucca and creosote are some of the other plants that contain saponins.

Lonnie demonstrates the berries’ effectiveness by plastering his hands with spruce pitch and dirt, then vigorously rubbing berry pulp in his hands to wash them.

The second, more interesting use of these soapberries is to produce “ice cream” — we use quotes because it’s neither cold nor cream-based. It’s more like a whipped mousse or pudding that consists of berry pulp, water, and a sweetener. Lonnie uses ordinary granulated sugar, but native peoples used naturally-occurring sweeteners like salal berries, thimbleberries, or fireweed. Once the pulp, sweetener, and water are combined in a container, they’re stirred or shaken rapidly to create a thick pink foam. In some cases, snow was also added.

While this “Indian ice cream” is said to be sweet and tasty, the saponins also give it a slight bitterness. They can also be toxic if consumed in very large quantities — more than you’d be making in the wild — and may give some people an upset stomach or indigestion. As with any wild edible, it’s a good idea to only try a small amount at first to see how your body reacts.


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